The Digital Census and You: How to Complete the 2020 Decennial Census

Census 2020: A Digital Census. One of the most significant changes from previous censuses is that the internet will be the primary response option, in addition to paper and phone.

Click on the image for more information about computer ownership and internet use. Image courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Click on the image for more information about computer ownership and internet use. Image courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.

What does this mean?

According to a Leadership Conference Education Fund policy brief, the Bureau plans on segmenting households as either “internet-first” or “internet-choice.” Households with demographic characteristics located in a geographic areas indicating consistent internet access will be classified as “internet-first” households and will be encouraged to fill out their census form on-line. Households with low internet connectivity will be labeled “internet-choice” households and will receive both the paper questionnaire and information for responding on-line.

“Internet-first” households will be mailed invitations to complete the survey online in three waves beginning in March 2020. The U.S. Census Bureau hopes that by spacing out the delivery of survey access codes, they can better control response times and keep the web servers from being overwhelmed.

What about the “Digital Divide?”

Internet access varies considerably across American households.  While more than 8 in 10 (81.9 percent) American households have internet access, accessibility is lower for people of color, older adults, immigrants, individuals living outside metropolitan areas, and by educational attainment and household income.  Consider the following statistics from a 2016 U.S. Census report:

  • Among Black and Hispanic households, 72.6 and 77.3 percent, respectively, have internet access.

  • Among individuals 65 years and older, 67.8 percent of individuals have internet access. 

  • The lowest rates of internet access are among limited English speaking households, households earning less than $25,000, and households where individuals have less than a high school degree.  Among these three groups, internet access is 62.8, 58.8, and 56.1 percent, respectively. 

For detailed maps of computer ownership and internet access by census tract, check out these maps from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).

Jason Jurjevich